Ask a River Guide: The Secrets of California’s Tuolumne River
OARS Guide Mike Kiddy Shares What Makes the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River One of the Best Whitewater Rafting Trips in the West
Mike Kiddy is a Californian through and through—his family history in the Golden State dates back nearly 150 years—so it’s no surprise that his passion for the outdoors hasn’t taken him far from home. And why would you leave when you can spend your winters skiing in North Lake Tahoe and your summers guiding rafting trips on the rivers of the Sierra Nevada? A river guide for nine years now, Mike most recently set his sights on the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River, where he’s been guiding for OARS for the last three seasons. From waterfall rapids to secret swimming holes, Mike shares what makes this whitewater rafting trip just outside of Yosemite National Park one of the best in the West…
Why do the “T”?
“I’d say the biggest attraction is being able to get away from everything and everyone and having no cell service. There’s incredible solitude, scenery and challenging whitewater start to finish.”
Wild & Scenic since 1984
“In the spring, it’s incredible. Everything’s so lush and green. All the side creeks are spilling into the river. It doesn’t even really look like California in the spring. Then, somebody flips the switch and everything turns gold dotted with oak savanna. And once you get further downstream you end up seeing limestone, quartz and some caves and cliffs up on the ridges.”
“I wouldn’t say anything [is] too crazy except at high water when there’s one window of flows where we’re just happy to get through Clavey Falls upright. When the water gets even higher than that, we can go around the main part of the falls, but then there’s still some pucker factor because there are no real eddies until you get six miles downriver. So yeah, it’s definitely motivating to stay in the boat.”
Secret swim spots
Up the Clavey [River] there’s a spot we call the Olympic Pool. It’s a really good side hike. The other one on the North Fork of the Tuolumne is called Devil’s Gate. It’s a really narrow spot of the canyon and we’ll go swimming and rock jumping. It can be a bit more of an adventurous hike to get there, but a really fun thing to do on a hot day.
Gold Rush history
“There’s a ton of human history down there. Like most west-sloped Sierra Nevada rivers it’s been pretty extensively mined. There’s a lot of equipment left, particularly at one site called Mohican. That was the biggest and most profitable mine down there.”